Construction industry leaders launch program to attract young builders

Dylan Newman, 19, exemplifies exactly the worker that Spokane construction industry leaders are targeting with a new program aimed at building job skills in area schools.

Newman resisted the push to go to college and instead took a job right after graduating from Mead High School in 2021. He currently works for his uncle, framing and finishing steel roofing and siding for buildings with poles.

“I’ve been doing it for a little over a year now,” Newman said. “I’m not just learning business skills, but life skills and how to work with landlords.

“The normal thing for me to do was go to college,” he continued. “But from my perspective, you get a head start in your learning and you get paid to do it.”

Last week, the Spokane Home Builders Association and the Inland Northwest Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of American announced an effort called Frame Your Future.

Spokane Home Builders raised approximately $200,000 in local donations to fund the high school curriculum.

The first effort will begin with a two-year program at Innovation High School in Spokane, a charter school.

Brian Burrow, who sits on the board of Innovation High School, said the money will fund a pilot program involving about 100 students.

“This program really grew out of (industry) here expressing here that they were having trouble finding qualified candidates,” Burrow said. “We decided to give students interested in trades… a course.

Jennifer Thomas, spokeswoman for the Home Builders Association, said many shop programs were the first programs cut during budget shortfalls at Spokane Public Schools.

Although the organizations work with partners to organize fairs and two-day events, this does not have the same effect as students learning practical skills before graduation.

The construction industry in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area is suffering from the same labor shortages as in many places across the country, and the situation is about to get worse, a- she declared.

Thomas said about 23% of current entrepreneurs will reach retirement age in 10 years.

As schools moved away from training programs for young people for a future in construction, the Frame Your Future campaign was designed to fill the void left behind.

“Instead of waiting for someone to save us, we created the solution we needed and now we’re funding it,” Thomas said. “It’s good for the students, it’s good for the community and it’s good for the industry.

Market influences

Thomas said the Spokane area is underbuilt by about 30,000 homes and prices have risen so much that only about 8% of families in Spokane can afford to buy one right now.

Joel White, chief executive of the Spokane Home Builders Association, said a lack of available labor was partly to blame for rising Spokane-area home prices.

“It’s a matter of supply and demand. When you don’t have enough skilled workers, their wages go up and the demand goes up and therefore the prices go up,” he said. “It deprives families of home ownership.”

At the same time, Spokane County has held steady in the number of single-family home permits issued at about 1,500 per year for the past six years.

“COVID blew everything up,” White said. “We had a surprise in the industry. Buyers moved vigorously in the market. They came with equity.

“I think the whole industry and the community were caught off guard by how quickly they arrived in our community.”

Then supply chain issues hit. Contractors who once could order a window on Monday and get it on Friday now have to wait months.

But funding the Frame Your Future program, industry leaders hope, is a first step toward solving the only problem they can control: the local workforce.

“It will take time to change people’s perceptions,” White said. “Schools can put in all the classes they want, but if the kids don’t want to be part of the construction industry, we can’t force them.

“What we can do is show them the benefits of the career. It’s a great opportunity,” he continued. “It’s one of the fastest career paths to business ownership.”

Industry Navigator

Cheryl Stewart, executive director of the Inland Northwest Association of General Contractors, said last week her organization appealed to a national spokesperson who said nearly all construction companies nationwide are hiring and 88 % say they have vacancies.

Stewart added that the same forces driving up costs in the housing market are doing the same for commercial construction.

As part of the local push, she said the MCO funded a position at WorkSource Spokane. This person, whom she referred to as an industry navigator, will work specifically with those interested in joining or growing in the construction industry.

“They’re the experts on how to get into the industry,” Stewart said of the post. “They will know who is hiring, what skills you need to have. It is their role. »

Dylan’s post

Newman, 19, volunteered to return to Mead and tell his story to his fellow students.

He earns about $22 an hour and drives a company truck. He works for his uncle, Jim Warner, owner of Colbert-based Solid Structures.

Warner, 46, also has a daughter who recently graduated from Gonzaga University with a business degree focusing on marketing and finance.

“Dylan earns 20% more than she earns with a four-year degree,” Warner said. “She’s not mad about it. But that’s just the reality. His demand is much higher right now than someone with a business degree.

Warner said a career in construction is rewarding, but it also has a physical impact on those who have been doing it for years.

“We are stuck with a large number of people in their 40s, 50s and 60s who have to leave our industry,” he said. “We’re stuck where we can’t move them around the office because we don’t have anyone moving in behind them to learn how to build these houses.

“It’s imperative that we have the Dylans.”

Warner, who also owns two other construction-related businesses, said he made as much or more money than many of his highly educated friends.

“It’s important for people to know that the trades are a great avenue,” he said. “Dylan wants to buy a house soon.

“I would like to see him at the age of 22 or 23, when everyone (in his class) is graduating from college, getting ready to buy their second home.”

And as for the current job market, Warner said, he would “hire 20 people tomorrow” if he had the chance.

“The construction business isn’t a bunch of toothless wonders trying to collect their $20,” Warner said. “That’s how people saw entrepreneurs before.

“Our guys drive nice trucks, have paid vacations and time off,” he continued. “These are career jobs.

“It’s nice to see the industry finally get to this point.”

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